Writing Contemporary Scottish Fiction

SUNDAY NIGHT ON THE BRIDGE

The Tay Road Bridge, seen from the V&A Gallery in Dundee

It was a snap decision to run my daughter to work. Her last night of night shift, and she was tired. I set out just after 10 pm to drive the seven or eight miles to her flat to pick her up. My route took me across the Tay Road Bridge, a concrete structure of 1.4 miles, spanning the tidal River Tay. As I joined the bridge and drove north, I noticed an emergency vehicle moving slowly along the southbound carriageway, and alarm bells began to ring. Leaving the bridge at the Dundee end, I heard the sirens and saw the night sky illuminated by blue flashing lights, drawing ever closer and I knew: someone was on the bridge, threatening to jump.  

I dropped my weary daughter at work, told her I loved her and headed back to the bridge, more in hope than expectation. It was by now almost 11 pm and I joined a short queue of stationary cars, prepared to sit it out. A high wooden barrier erected around the building works at the waterfront prevented me from seeing the bridge; but I settled down with Killer Sudoku on my phone, hoping the wait wouldn’t be too long. At just five miles away, my house, my woodburning stove and my cosy bed were tantalisingly close. Not as close though as the dark, swirling waters of the river were to the man on the bridge.  In the callous, detached way that comes with oft-seen tragedies, we refer to them as “jumpers”.

 

The walkway between the north and south carriageways

The north and southbound carriageways are separated by a central walkway but, when someone is threatening to jump, the policy is to close the whole bridge. With the odd exception, we, the bridge-users accept this with equanimity, sending up thankful prayers that it’s not one of our loved ones. We wonder, idly, what it is that leads a person to the belief that the cold dark unforgiving waters offer a better solution than — almost anything.

 

Their numbers are rising. In September 2018 it was reported that the bridge had been closed fifty times in the past year. Occasionally this is because the wind speed has gusted at 80 mph or above; but mostly it’s because some troubled soul is quite literally on the edge.

 

The barrier on the southbound carriageway

And then we were moving, slowly, but we were on our way, traffic from the two approach roads merging politely. But, as I rounded the wooden barrier, I saw that a police car was parked, broadside across the carriageway and that we were being diverted over to the other off-road and away from the bridge. As I crested the rise and prepared to turn right towards the newly-opened V&A Gallery I saw the chilling sight of two police officers walking slowly along the middle of the southbound carriageway, into the darkness. I couldn’t see the river now, but I knew that the RNLI lifeboat would be sitting below the bridge, just in case. The absence of a helicopter, hovering, told me the jumper was still on the bridge.  

 

It was too late to go to a café or a pub so I elected to take the 46-mile round trip to the next bridge up the river, at Perth. I was tired now, blinking to stay awake. I flicked between radio stations, trying to focus on the night-time chat but my mind kept drifting back to the bridge and its lonely occupants. At half past midnight I arrived home, tired but thankful. A quick check on the bridge website told me it was open to all traffic and this morning a local news report confirmed a man had been safely removed from the bridge.

 

So, what is to be done? The bridge authorities have rejected suggestions of netting over the carriageway, and this seems reasonable. They have also stated that messages of comfort should not be attached to the walkway barriers as these could prove a distraction to drivers. Indeed, it is not the bridge which is the problem but the circumstances that lead someone to contemplate jumping from it. And, until we understand what these are, we will continue to see the bridge closed at an average rate of once a week. We must do better than this.



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